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RUTLAND HISTORICAL SOCIETY 



Quarterly 



Volume 39 No, 2 



2009 



Rutland City in the Dark: 

Northeast Blackout of 

November 9 th 1965 

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Map of the electrical outage in New York & New England in 1965, 




About the Author 

Clifford Giffin began his career in the 
electrical utility industry in 1946 when he was 
employed by the Public Electric Light Company 
(PELCO) which was a small electric utility 
serving the St. Albans, Vermont, area. He 
transferred to the Central Vermont Public 
Service Corporation (CVPS) when PELCO was 
purchased by CVPS in the summer of 1953. At 
the time of this story he was the Chief 
Dispatcher for CVPS at its central dispatch 
center located in Rutland at 77 Grove Street. 
During his career at CVPS he managed several functions and was 
its Vice President of Operations when he retired in 1990, after forty 
four years in the electric utility industry. He and his wife Shirley 
reside in Rutland City. Clifford is an active member of the Rutland 
Historical Society where he brings energy, enthusiasm and experience 
to his volunteer work for the Society. Currently he also serves on the 
Society's Board of Directors. 

Introduction 

The availability of electricity has been a fact of life for nearly a 
century. Only an occasional severe storm or a brief interruption to 
repair or replace equipment has been reason to lose electrical 
service or so it was thought. But on 9 November 1965 there was no 
storm, no equipment breakdown, but suddenly no electricity. It was 
as if a giant galactic magnet had sucked away all the electricity in 
much of New York and New England and for some time no one knew 
why. 

This is a story of the great blackout of November 1965 and the 
resolution of the local problem as it was seen through the eyes of one 
of the principals charged with restoring electricity to Rutland. 



The Quarterly is published by the Rutland Historical Society, 96 Center Street, Rutland 
VT 05701-4023. Co-editors: Jim Davidson and Jacob Sherman. Copies are $2 each plus 
$1 per order. Membership in the Society includes a subscription to the Quarterly and the 
Newsletter.Copyright © 2009 The Rutland Historical Society, Inc. ISSN 0748-2493. 



Rutland City in the Dark 

Northeast Blackout 

November 9 th 1965 

By Clifford Giffin 

The year was 1965. Johnson was president and the Vietnam War 
was raging. Here in New England there was great excitement in the 
electric industry with the promise of nuclear electric power. One 
exuberant expert publicly stated that electricity would be so cheap it 
would not be metered. Electric heat was being promoted as efficient, 
easy to install and inexpensive to operate, 

By 1965 the electric industry in Vermont, consisting of over 
twenty-five utilities, had been integrated electrically into a 
statewide interconnected transmission system. The transmission 
system was owned and operated by the Vermont Electric Power 
Company (VELCO). Its three major stockholders were Central 
Vermont Public Service , Green Mountain Power Corporation, and 
Citizens Utilities Company. 

In spite of Vermont's success in forming a statewide grid for bulk 
electric power supply, New England, as an area, was still controlled 
by individual electric utilities. Vermont's electric system frequency 
control and other operating requirements for control were provided 
by New England Electric System (NEES) which had its control 
center for operations located in Millbury, Massachusetts. 

At this time centralized operations and planning for the New 
England Area was only a vision. It had been recognized that 
centralized control for New England was a necessity, but competing 
interests of electric company executives made it difficult to bring 
centralized control and planning for New England into a functioning 
entity. 

In January 1965 I had been placed in charge of the Dispatch 
Department function at Central Vermont Public Service Corporation 
(CVPS) located down stairs at the corporate office headquarters at 77 
Grove St. Operations had moved to this location from Cleveland 
Avenue around 1960. This function controlled the company's 
generating and transmission facilities and administered purchased 



power contracts and other customer service related activities 
necessary to operate the electric power system. 




Central Vermont Public Service headquarters, 77 Grove Street 




Clifford Giffin at CVPS on a typical workday. 



Tuesday, November 9, 1965, ended as just another workday. The 
weather was clear and seasonably cool and without storms in the 



forecast. Leaving the office a little after 5:00 pm I drove to my home 
on North Church St, a short drive from the office. As I came into the 
house my wife looked at me with a puzzled look. "I'm surprised to see 
you," she said. 

"Why?" I asked. 

"The lights have been blinking so I knew you must be having 
problems," she replied. 

I had been in the utility business for nineteen years and my family 
knew that when the lights blinked Daddy was having problems. Even 
when I was at home and outside I would be told if the house lights 
blinked. 

As I stood in the doorway I did notice that the house lights seemed 
quite dim. At first I thought it was because I was coming in from the 
darkness then as I stood there I realized that that wasn't the reason 
as they were getting dimmer. 

"I'll have to get back down there," I said, rushing out to the car 
without having taken my coat off. 

Turning onto Grove Street from Crescent Street the streetlights 
and traffic lights went out. As I continued along the street all the 
houses were dark. 

It was a really strange feeling without streetlights, traffic lights or 
house lights. The moonlight lit up the roofs and streets with its pale 
soft light. As I parked in the company parking lot, I noticed that the 
emergency generator was running to supply power to the building. It 
was a good feeling to know that our weekly exercise of the emergency 
motor generator set was paying off. 

My mind quickly played out different scenarios that could be the 
problem causing the north end of the city to be without electricity. 
Could it be a car pole accident or maybe a problem at the North 
Rutland Substation? My mind toyed with the options. I knew the 
North end of the city was served from that substation. 

My experience told me the problem would be quickly discovered 
and steps taken to restore service from either an alternate supply or 
by promptly repairing the problem and that would be that. 

As I rushed down the ground level corridor into the dispatch center 
I found the dispatcher on duty, Howard Garrow, was busy talking on 
the red emergency phone. This private line did not go through the 
company switchboard and its purpose was for emergency 
communications only. The company switchboard was lit up with its 
twenty or more incoming lines, white lights flashing and each one 
ringing, waiting to be answered. The time was 5:28 pm. 

"What's going on?" I inquired. 



Howard Gar row at the emergency phone. 

Taking the phone off his ear for a second Howard looked up and 
said, "I don't know. I'm trying to find out. I'm getting calls from 
everywhere. I've called the on call man but...." and then he turned 
back to the red phone. 

As I was standing there trying to figure out how I could help, the 
private phone from North Rutland substation flashed and rang. 
Picking up the phone, I replied, "Yes." 

"This is Bush and I am up at North Rutland substation and the 
substation is flat. The switches are all open and all incoming 
transmission lines are dead. I'll be here waiting to help with what I 
can." (Gilbert "Bush" Howland was a company electrical and 
substation engineer.) 

"Thanks Bush," I said and hung up the phone. 

Going into my office, adjacent to the dispatch office, I was able to 
contact the Vermont Electric Power Company (VELCO) dispatch 
center on Wales Street and discovered that they were also 
scrambling to find the source of the problem. They said their 
transmission system was without power and that they could not 
contact the New England Electric System dispatcher in Millbury, 
Massachusetts. Knowing that VELCO was without electric service I 
knew it was more than a local outage involving the northern part of 
the city. 



Then the North Rutland Substation phone rang again. "Yeah," I 
replied. 




Ready Room (adjacent to Dispatch Center). "Bush" Howland 

(standing at right rear in dark suit) was at the North Rutland 

Substation at this time. 

"Giff this is me again. A guy just stopped out here with a CB radio 
in his car and he says all of New England is out of power. Even planes 
can't land in New York because the airport lights are off." 

"I thought this was local," I remarked. 

"You better think again. I'll let you know if I hear anything else. I'll 
be here," he said as he hung up the phone. 

By now the corridors on the ground floor at the 77 Grove Street 
office building were crowded with employees trying to find out what 
was going on and volunteering to help. 

The company FM two-way radio speaker was crackling with 
linemen and supervisors calling in to find out what was going on and 
to tell the dispatcher where they were located. They knew that 
switching likely would be needed to restore service. A beep was 
sounding every minute or so from the radio speaker alerting the 
dispatcher that the emergency generator was providing electricity to 
the transmitter site at the top of Pico Mountain. The Company had 
installed emergency generators at its mountain top radio sites so 
that FM radios would function during power failures. Electricity to 
the mountaintop was off quite frequently because to get to the 
mountaintop the electric lines were situated on pretty rough terrain. 



Now that I knew that electricity would not be available from 
outside the state, we would have to attempt to restore service to 
Rutland City with local generation, if we could. I knew the electric 
requirements for the Rutland City area load was about twenty 
thousand kilowatts and that we would need to start the gas turbines 
located just off West Street if we were going to be successful in 
supplying the city. In my mind I thought we could at least get 
electricity back to the hospital, police, and fire department. Of 
course, at the time, I had no idea how long it would be before the bulk 
power supply would be available. 

The problem was that the gas turbines that would be needed to 
supply the electricity had to be cranked by electric motors to start 
them rolling and there was no electricity available at the gas turbine 
plant off West Street, or anywhere else. 




The three gas turbines just south of West Street. 

The sources available to supply electricity to the gas turbines were 
the hydro stations on East Creek. It would be necessary to find some 
way to get electricity from them to the gas turbine plant. 

The hydro station operators were unfamiliar with the procedure to 
start their hydro generator units without electric service. They were 
in the dark at the stations except for DC lights from station batteries 
and handheld lights. 

The hydro units available in the Rutland Area were Glen Station on 
Route 7, with a capacity of 1,500 KW, East Pittsford Station with a 



8 



capacity of 3,000 KW and then the three gas turbines that had a total 
capacity of 15,000 KW. I knew if we could get them all on line we 
would be able to supply most of the city. 

I had been a station operator for Public Electric Light Company in 
St. Albans until 1953. While I was working there the company would 
lose electricity completely once in a while, as the company was not 
connected to any source other than its own generation. With this 
experience I knew the fundamentals of restoring a power system 
from a complete shut down. Howard Garrow, the dispatcher on duty, 
also came from the same company so he also had experience. 

As one would imagine there was much frustration and confusion. It 
was impossible to get through to other utilities that would have the 
much-needed information. The ringing on many telephone 
switchboards didn't work without electricity. No one of course had 
thought electricity could be completely off. Duplicate electric lines 
that had been installed as back up, didn't work as the supply had 
failed. Many places did not have emergency lights. Outside lights at 
substations were off so switchmen had to depend on flashlights to 
operate switches. 

Our first step was to try to energize the transmission line into the 
gas turbine plant from Glen Station. But the operation failed. 




The Glen Station on Route 7 just north of Rutland. 



When that didn't work, we opened the transmission line on the 
north side of East Pittsford Station and energized the North Rutland 
Substation from the East Pittsford generators. 




Generators at East Pittsford Station. 




North Rutland Substation. 



10 



With the expertise of "Bush" Rowland as our switchman at North 
Rutland Substation, we successfully energized the transmission line 
into the gas turbine plant. With further help from employee 
operators in substations, we had disconnected all customer use so 
that there was a direct line from East Pittsford into the gas turbine 
plant. 

Once the power was into the gas turbine plant the operators and 
the rest of the crew cranked one of the three gas turbines up to speed 
and fired it off. In a few minutes it was on line at 60 cycles and proper 
voltage, waiting for orders from dispatch to add load. Now we had 
the one gas turbine and East Pittsford tied into our small power 
system. 

Of course it still didn't serve any customers as we had opened all 
the substation switches. The dispatcher then started restoring 
electric service one circuit at a time. We would add a circuit and 
check with the gas turbine operator to determine how it was going 
and then add another circuit. Glen Station now had its two units on 
line and our little electrical system increased its capability. If my 
memory is correct, we closed the first circuit to the city at 6:20 pm at 
the Lalor Avenue substation. It was a slow process, as adding 
customers had to be coordinated with increasing the generation to 
supply them. It was a procedure that I had thought about but had 
never had to implement. The situation was one that the city had 
experienced before when most of the city had been without 
electricity during the flood of 1947. 

The dispatcher had restored service to perhaps one half of the city 
when VELCO called at 7:10 pm and said that the transmission line 
from Plattsburgh, New York was energized into the Essex Junction 
Substation and that they would be restoring service to the bulk 
power supply shortly. Within a few minutes the VELCO 
transmission lines came alive into Rutland and service was restored 
to all of our customers. It was a warm feeling to know our customers 
were back in service. Some areas, outside of Vermont, were not so 
lucky. 

Two areas of CVPS, St. Albans with hydro generation, and St 
Johnsbury that was connected to Comerford hydro station of New 
England Electric Power, did not experience an interruption. 

After electricity was restored I spent several hours trying to piece 
together what had happened on the CVPS system, as I knew there 
would be many questions. 

The next day the Federal Power Commission sent a request for 
representatives of Vermont and other New England utilities to come 



11 



to Washington DC as they would be holding hearings to find out what 
had caused the massive failure. Wayne Edson, Vice President of 
Operations, and Porter Noble, company attorney, and I flew to 
Washington to be present. We chartered a plane from Rutland to 
Albany and took the shuttle from Albany to Washington, My plane 
ticket for the shuttle was $18.00, 

At the hearing it was evident within the first five minutes that 
CVPS was not involved. Testimony from major utility companies 
quickly determined that the frequency was different between New 
York and Canada, and that was where the investigation would be 
focused. We left the hearing and returned home that afternoon. 

Later it was determined that the failure had been caused by a relay 
failure at the Sir Adam Beck station in Canada. A relay failed^ 
interrupting the large power flow coming into New York from Canada. 
As the utilities in United States did not have the capacity to replace 
it, the frequency kept getting slower and slower until station 
operators opened switches to de-energize the total system to prevent 
further damage to the equipment or to isolate their area from the 
rest of the failing systems. 

The largest unit in service at the time was big Alice, a 1,0000 MW 
unit owned by Consolidated Edison of New York. As an example of 
how unprepared utilities were, this steam driven turbine generator 
unit experienced bearing failure because it did not have a steam 
driven auxiliary emergency oil lube pump to supply bearing oil while 
the unit was coasting to a stop following the power failure. 

Subsequent to this event major modifications were made to all 
electric power systems in the Northeast, Low frequency relays were 
installed to automatically shed load at a predetermined level. 
Emergency power sources were installed and reliable 
communication systems were installed. Emphasis was placed on 
forming the New England Power Pool. 

In 1970 the New England Power Pool (NEPOOL) agreement was 
placed in service and in 1971 its operation function New England 
Power Exchange (NEPEX), became responsible for all bulk 
transmission operations in New England and the entity responsible 
for coordinating all operations with neighboring systems of New 
York and Canada. 

This story is how I remember the event as it occurred over forty years ago.